These biographical sketches were published in

Blairgowrie, Stormont & Strathmore Worthies by Henry Dyerre , Blairgowrie, October 1903

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Stewart Jack
Alexander Crichton
Provost John Jack

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A fellow of infinite jest. – Shakespeare.

It is a commonplace experience with students of rural life in bygone times which becomes positively monotonous, to find that it hardly matters how small the community one is dealing with, if only the period be far enough back---say, anything from thirty to fifty years as a minimum---there is sure to be one or more outstanding figures in it whose sayings and doings are to become the favourite theme of succeeding generations.  Whether the same process is going on in our own day is extremely doubtful; but that is a question we have no business with here.  Stewart Jack was a good illustration of this, as the sequel should show.  He first saw light in Alyth in 1787.  His father and grandfather belonged to the same district, his grandfather being one of the few retainers of Airlie in Alyth who turned out with him in the'45.


And went through the whole campaign, his ardour causing him to lock his wife in the house in order to get off with the laird.  A well-dinted shield and much-hacked sword showed the sort of business he had been at while away.  The mementoes were sold to a packman by Stewart's mother---to the never-ending regret of her son.  He learned the trade of slater, and came to Meikleour, some four miles on the other side of Blairgowrie when a young man, and at his most thriving period undertook large contracts as far north as Blair Atholl and south to Edinburgh.  Touching "contacts", the word invariable recalls Stewart's reply to the smart youths who met him one morning.  "Dear me, Stewart," was their surprised greeting, "we thought you would be in Perth.  This is the day the big job is to be settled."  "What's that?" asked Stewart, with his usual snivel.  "Oh, the slating of the railway between Perth and Forfar, you know". "Man, I've been that busy I forgot a' aboot it," replied Stewart, offering his snuff mull without a wince.  "You see, I've just settled the contract for the Loch o' Clunie."  Stewart's name is most frequently associated with such witticisms, but he is




On much more substantial grounds.  He was an omnivorous reader, and could read comfortable, he declared, going at five miles an hour if the road was familiar; and a great sight it was, too, to see the tall, gaunt figure "shauchlin'" along in his "lum" hat---without which  he was seldom seen---a book in one hand and a bundle of tools in the other.  Fortunately for Stewart's taste, and for that of the cluster of hard-headed theologians, politicians, logicians, and whatever else which the village boasted, there was a capital little library in it, fostered by the Baroness Keith and Nairne---grandmother of our present Foreign Secretary.  Amongst its contents were "Encyclopaedia Britannica," Hume's works, Rollin's "Ancient History," Chambers's "Papers for the People," and possibly the works of Voltaire, Volney, and Tom Paine, as Stewart showed a familiar knowledge of these last, and quoted them frequently, as well as from pre-French-Revolution literature generally.




As for his memory, it was simply perfect---complete catalogue raisonne´ of everthing he had seen, heard, or read; every item duly ear-marked and pigeon-holed, ready for production at a moment's notice.  He fell in with a band of gypsies about Crieff one day as he was tramping home from Edinburgh, and nothing would do but that he should stop and give them a lecture on their own ancient history.  He was awakened in the dead of night on another occasion by a pushful little beggar of a schoolboy---who was in a pickle of trouble to find out the date of Prince Charlie's death.  The sleeping slater heard the tapping on his window.  "Are you waukin', Stewart?"  asked our scholar.  "Ay; is that you, laddie?" said Stewart, recognizing the voice of a favourite of his.  "Ay.  Whan did Prince Charlie dee?"  "Seventeen auchty-aucht," was the answer, as he turned over again.

                A mistaken statement by someone led him off into a description of the destruction of the Roman fleet off Syracuse by Archimedes with his burning lenses.  "Ay, laddie," said he, one night, poiting to the constellation Orion, "there it hings, just as Job saw it from the plains of Syria and the Magi watched it from the towers of Babylon!"  A question about the moon brought out a discourse on the solar system.  "Tell Stewart, Peter," said a fond grandfather to his boy, "aboot that wonderfu' burning mountain in America."  "Oh, ay," said Stewart, at once, "that'll be Popocatepetl, nae doot, the extinct volcano in Mexico, seventeen thousand seven hunder and auchty-four feet high, and forty miles sooth-east from the city of Mexico.  It's aye smokin' yet, laddie, but there hasna been an eruption since 1568!"




held meetings frequently, particularly in winter, and what these worthies didn't discuss---and settle---wasn't worth a boast.  The wonder is there is still so much to talk about.  Each of them had his own individuality: Old James Tamson, mason, was regarded as the best logician; Charlie Cochrane was a great wit; John Scott a remarkable intelligent and well-informed man, &c; but Stewart was a match for them all---in turn or altogether.  There was always a "grand nicht" when Millar, the author of "The Tay", used to visit the village periodically to square up for the "Strathmore Journal," which used to circulate in the disctrict---5d a copy, and no copy with less than five or six subscribers.  The slater had pronounced opinions upon everthing he read.  He was never tired of ridiculing "finality Johnny" (Lord John Russell) and his sliding scale of taxation.  He did not care for Cromwell, Hume having carried him away; he admired John Hampden; used to compare David to Rob Roy, and Dr. Johnson to an ill-conditioned tyke.  He had a mortal antipathy to Henry VIII, being too fond of his own wife, Nelly Walker---despite appearances at times---to abide that much-married monarch.  And, touching domesticities, mention must be made of his one great weakness---turning up the little finger.  Dearly as he loved Nelly, he gave her many a sore heart.  "Is it true, Stewart," asked an idle fellow, "that you have drunk as much whiskey as might float a 50-gun man-o'-war?"  "Weel, I'm no sayin' but I might gie it a gey shog."  One day an elder of Lothendy Kirk and Stewart dropped into "Danger Inn," at the east end of Old Rattray, near the bridge.  The elder called for a gill, dfrew down his big blue bonnet and proceeded to say grace---Stewart meantime




"It's weel ca'd 'Danger Inn,'" was the remark he made to his companion's astonished look; "an' that should show you that watchin' is far mair necessar' than praying'!"

                He used to declare that he had a ladder so crooked that he had to go around it three times to reach the top.  He got a present of some firewood so green that it was, like Orr's Almanack---intended for next year.  He was on the roof of his own house one day, busy "putting out the lum," and a passer-by sympathized with him.  His reply was in the words of the preacher---"Better to dwell in a corner of the housetop than with a brawling woman and in a wide house." A favourite saying of his---referring to the French Revolution and other great movements originating with the people---was that "hunger was the best politician."  "What tune's that you're playin'?" asked he of a village flute player.  "Waterloo." "I was thinkin' that," remarked Stewart; "for it was a gey ravelled mess!" And so on, ad. lib.

                The genuine respect and affection Stewart enjoyed from everyone are well shown in a  single anecdote.  One Saturday night the only grocer in the village ran out of bread, and Stewart had to go without.  The news spread---"Stewart has nae bread." And first one, then another, and another, called with bannocks and cakes and bread and cheese, &c., till he might have started a provision store on his own account.






                Stewart got his first ideas of history, it may be mentioned, at his father's knee out of an old volume of Buchanan's History of Scotland, and was, as already stated, an omnivorous yet discriminative reader.  He did not have a very high opinion of Cromwell, having been greatly influenced in his estimate of the Protector by Hume.  One of his judgements was---"Oliver was clean wrang when he declared that the Lord delivered the Scotch army at Dunbar into his hands.  Man, it was the Presbyterian ministers that delivered them!"  He was frequently heard to say of the gypsies, whom he was wont to lecture about their own ancient history in a manner more amazing than instructive---"Naebody can sing without a certain amount o' literary culture, but thae gypsies come gey near the thing by pure imitation."  He was a volunteer in his early days, and while at Lunan Bay, a suspicious Dutch lugger having been captured by a British gunboat, the crew were brought ashore and Stewart was deputed with others to escort the prisoners to Inverness.  He used to declare that these sailors were the most desperate-looking characters he ever saw, and that "ony o' them might have stood for the original of Dirk Hatteraick."  A remarkable old soldier---Sir Bannister Tarleton---took Meikleour House for a number of seasons.  He had been a captain of horse during the American War of Independence, and being of a bluff, hearty, good-natured disposition, and very fond of the villagers, he soon discovered




In Stewart, who became a frequent visitor at the house, where over many a steaming bowl the old warrior


Fought all his battles o'er again,

And thrice he routed all his foes,

And thrice he slew the slain.


The Meikleour slater, if he was not "fellow with the best king" was the "best king of good fellows" on such occasions.  Old Tarleton used to maintain that after the war he was "played out like a d----d fighting cock!"  He was a devoted angler, and the Tay close by yielded frequent tribute to his skill.  His wife, however, who was equally kind-hearted and interested in the villagers, prevailed upon him to lay aside his takes on the Wednesdays for their behoof; but when he had landed a particularly fine fish on that day and wished to gratify some of his friends (and do a little self-glorification) he would compound with his humble and complaisant beneficiaries for a gift of flesh instead of fish---always to the advantage of the recipients.  Before leaving Meikleour for good and all he rode round the Cross on his war horse---which he always brought with him---three times, bidding goodbye to everybody, and as a final and inclusive valediction sat upright in the saddle, and thus addressed them:---"My friends, I bid you all good-bye once more.  I've been all round the world in my time, but swear I have never seen any dem'd place it has cost me so much trouble to leave as Meikleour!"  Here follow a few more of Stewart's witticisms, and if the "dram" is a too conspicuous figure in most of them, it must never be forgot as palliation of Stewart's weakness that the "fierce light that beats upon a throne" applies equally well to the village slater, who was an outstanding individuality in his own little circle.  One day he and David Scott, mason, had been west of Clunie purchasing a cow each, but




without entering---tying the cows to the paling before doing so.  Some wag made off with the animals, and caused the worthies some trouble when they were ready to resume the journey.  They had to start off without their bestial, and when they reached the Limekilns, les miserables sat down to condole with each other.  William Duff, Clunie, who is understood to have had something to do with the disappearance of the kye, was passing, and heard Scott say, "Man, Stewart, we'll get an awfu' hearin' frae Mr. Balfour for this!" (Mr. Balfour was their minister.)  "I'm no carin' a dockin' for Mr. Balfour." Said Stewart; "but I'll tell ye what, David," added he, taking a great pinch of snuff, "it's high time we started a new religion, and the first article o' doctrine will be that ilk ane gets as muckle whiskey as he likes to pay for."  On being reproved by a clergyman on one occasion for his excesses, Stewart's reply, which had a pointed reference to the clergyman himself, was---"Weel, Mr. -----, I've never yet seen atween the twa brods o' the Bible ony prohibition o' whiskey, but there are plenty o' passages maki' it gey hot for wine-bibbers!"  "As for wine itsel'," said he on another occasion, "I wudna' gi'e it guts-room!"  One day he was found drinking from the Loch of Clunie.  "What are you about, Stewart?" asked some one,  "Oh, just makin' grog o' last nicht's drink!" At a




the intervals between the toasts were far too long for his taste.  "Mr Chairman," said he, rising, "I've a toast to propose in which I houp ye'll a' jine heartily."  "Hear, hear," cried the company, "go on wi' your toast, Stewart."  "Weel, gentlemen, fill your glasses, an' here's to a' people that on earth do dwell!"  Coming into Blair one day he met Matthew Harris,a hunchback.  "Hillo! Mattha," exclaimed he, "did you come strecht frae Blair?"  "Ay," said Mattha.  "Weel, ye've gotten awfu' crookit on the road."  He once fell from the roof of a house into a heap of manure.  "Man, Stewart, that was a geyin' fa' ye had," said a sympathetic old wife as she scraped him.  "Fa', woman," exclaimed the wrathful and malodorous slater, "the fa' wad hae been naething but for the confounded stinkin' stappin'."  He had a big score "caulked" up against him at Miller's Inn, Clunie, and the landlord kept nagging him for payment.  Stewart's exchequer couldn't stand the strain of present demands, let alone past, and saying nothing about the future; but, credit or no credit, he put a handful of old keys, &c., in his pocket and stept along to Clunie.  "Weel, Mr. Miller," said he, "I've just come alang to see aboot that account o' mine. It's been owre lang on the road."  "Deed I, Stewart," chimed in the expectant creditor.  "Weel," said Stewart, jiongling the keys and other "rubbitch" in his pocket, "see a gill o' your best, an' run up hoo muckle I' awn ye."  The gill was set down, and the slim slater had gulped it down and was through with business before the landlord had adjusted his "specs" for the formidable summation.  "Ye can




remarked he, as he passed out into the night.  He had a job up Glenshee way once, and got up very early on a Sunday morning to put on the last few slates before starting for home.  All the caution in the world, however, would not prevent an old wife hearing him.  "Ye auld, muckle-nosed sinner!" cried she, "to daur to brak' the Sawbbath in that shafu' wey!"  "Michty me, wumman," exclaimed the slater, stopping short, "ye dinna tell me ye've Sawbbath sae far north as this!"  While repairing the roof on Tay Farm house, near Spittalfield, Duff, the farmer chaffed Stewart about the number of people he had "done" for a dram.  "That was because they didna ken ye, Stewart," said he; "I'm gey shure ye'd never tak' me in."  "Maybe no," was all Stewart said, and went on with his work.  Shortly afterwards he came down for a load of slates, got half-way up the ladder when he was seized suddenly with an awful fit of trembling, scattering the slates in every direction, and nearly toppling over the ladder with his contortions.  Arrived on the ground, he sank down in  a state of collapse, his groans really heart-breaking.  The farmer, in a great state, ran in for the whiskey, but poor Stewart's teeth chattered in his head to such an extent it was with great difficulty that a glass was got over; another was tried, with  better results, and, muttering something about "feeling better noo," the slater gathered up his slates and got up the ladder all right.  "Man, Duff," exclaimed he from the roof, "ye're




If the following story is true, he was nearly done himself on one occasion.  It is told of another villager also, however.  Stewart, as formerly mentioned, was a great snuffer, but used to get his supplies from Balmain's, Perth, having nothing but contempt for the snuff sold in the village.  One day the carrier, having forgot to bring a promised half-pound, supplied himself in the village, and met Stewart on the road to meet him, fairly "finissin'" for his "sneeshin".  Opening the "poke" he took a mighty pinch, and, with a great inhalation and immense gusto, exclaimed loud enough for the people inside the shop to hear---"Man, that's a pear o' anither tree! Nane o' your rubbitchy Meiklour stuff!"

                Pallida mors knocked at Stewart's humble portal on the 5th of February 1863, in his 76th year; and thus passed away a man of such mental endowments as might have graced many a high position in life.




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"Blairgowrie, Stormont & Strathmore Worthies" by Henry Dyerre , Blairgowrie, October 1903









                                So much one man can do

                                That does both act and know.

                                                                --Andrew Marvel


                The Crichtons are said to have been Hungarians originally, coming from Hungary with the daughter of the fugitive Prince of England, who afterwards became Queen Margaret of Scotland.  The branch from which our friend has sprung came from Sanquhar to Ruthven, in 1375, and were proprietors of the latter parish about 1745.  Both Thomas the laird and John, his brother, were out in the'45, and served as lieutenants at Culloden, fleeing the country after that disastrous event.  According to traditions, Thomas borrowed a thousand pounds shortly before his departure from a Dundee merchant called Ogilvy, who had himself proclaimed laird of Ruthven at the Cross of Edinburgh afterwards; another version is that the estate was sold to Thomas Ogilvy of Coul in 1744; in any case. It passed into the Ogilvy family, and has remained there ever since.  An extremely interesting and probably




of Culloden and Mr Crichton's Jacobite ancestors is in his possession.  This is a proclamation dated 22d August from the camp at Kinlochiel, by Prince Charlie, offering £30,000 for the "Person of the Elector of Hanover."  The document is written on paper having the Royal watermark, and is signed "Charles, P.R."  Mr Crichton's maternal grandfather was Duncan Macfarlane, of the Monlin branch, who are descended from the Stewarts of Lennox.  He was cousin to Daniel Stewart, who erected and endowed Strathtay School, and whose money built Stewart's Hospital, Edinburgh.  The paternal grandfather, again, Alexander Crichton, was a self-taught mason and sculptor at Kirkinch, well-known over a wide district for his artistic sundials, carved armorial bearings, figures of Scottish heroes, &c., and as a man of strong individuality and sound acquirements.  His son Peter (father of our friend) was born at Kirkinch, and bred to the miller business, residing at various periods at Cardean, Keithock, Lewer, Invereighty, Nether Mill, Millhole, Milton (Glen of Ogilvy), and Clocksbriggs.  On the mother's side, again, it is worth noting that her oldest sister was the mother of the late Engineer-in-Chief of the British Navy---namely, Sir James Wright, who in his time remodeled the whole fleet, and had the honour of Knighthood conferred upon him by the late Queen in 1887.  It was at Lewer, in the




that the subject of our sketch first saw light, and Newtyle claims him as her scholar in his early years.  His natural bent was soon exhibited in the production of water-mills, locomotives, &c., even at that time.  Doubtless the close proximity to the Dundee and Newtyle railway helped somewhat in the latter direction, and he was never tired examining the machinery of both the locomotive and stationary engines.  "Puffin Shusie" was the elegant appellation applied to the locomotive that used to run between Newtyle, Coupar Angus, and Meigle Junction.  "Shusie" would not be regarded as a beauty nowadays, and was decidedly passee when our young and eager inventor first became acquainted with her, requiring much nursing to keep her running.  Her driver, a reckless, hard-hearted Englishman, used to abuse her quite shamefully; for when he got on the spree, which not infrequently happened, he would amuse himself by pelting his old sweetheart with stones---which was nothing to the "langwidge" he used.  One day, however, she had a sweet revenge.  Fisken---the name of her driver---was oiling the cylinder as they were passing through the wood of Newbigging, when she caught him by the foot and pitched him right overboard and down a steep embankment.  She got it 'ot for that, though.  Old "Shusie's" water supply had to be pumped up by hand from a well in the village, which was great fun for the boys, who had their pay in a two miles' run on the engine.  Mechanics seem to have run




For our friend had a grand uncle and a number of cousins connected with the Newtyle Railway, and all more or less affected that way.  One of his cousins, David Crichton, was a great fellow for working models of steam engines, one of which, made of silver, was well known in Dundee.  A beautiful lathe, constructed by him,, was sold to a Broughty Ferry gentleman for £45.  It was this David who ran the "Caley" engine to Glasgow in the race between the rival lines at the opening of the Tay Bridge, arriving three quarters of an hour before his opponent.  Another cousin was the maker of the game little model locomotive dubbed "Cutty Sark," which still holds its own at Dundee Exhibitions.  At Clocksbriggs the miller's son was sent to the plough, but his heart was never in the work, only, as he trudged the "furs" behind his pair, he was enabled to think out many a problem in mechanics, which for lack of books he had to test by practical experiments afterwards, and too often learned, to his chagrin, that there were other Richmonds in the field.  A case of this sort was his "link motion" contrivance, which, later on, he stumbled across at work in one of the ferry boats between Dundee and Newport.  But the young man of 16 or 18 was steadily making a name for himself in the district, and




was his when he managed to make to work properly an old "Watt & Boulton" engine---the first of the kind north of the Tay---at Muirton Mill, near Clocksbriggs, which had beaten all the engineers in Arbroath.  About this time, too, he began learning the violin, and recalls as among the things he would not willingly forget the grand playing of Jamie Allan, of Forfar, and his string band, which the young fiddler used to tramp to Forfar to hear.  But he was not satisfied with the prospect of turning out a Niel Gow or even a Paganini, and with characteristic restlessness was always


                                Seeking for some great thing to do

                                Or secret thing to know.


He must have a shy at the Stradivari business as well, several well-made fiddles being the result.  That was only a beginning, however.  His next idea was a fiddle-making machine, which automatically carved the backs and bellies of any pattern, following the delicate curves and thicknesses with the greatest nicety.  That was 35 years ago; what a chance there is here for Scottish thrift and industry!  Why should Markneukirchen and Mirecourt fiddles be imported by the hundred-thousand every year when we can make better instruments for ourselves?  But the young inventor did not stop even there, for he




on the shape of the violin itself, and has made a number of the "bell" pattern---an idea of his own---which certainly sound as well as many more expensive instruments of the ordinary shape.  Photography next claimed him as a votary, and it was only natural that he should begin by making a camera for himself, the lenses for which were the glasses from an old pair of spectacles!  Good old camera!  Its work was truly wonderful.  In 1868 he removed to Kinnochtry, and while there had occasion to thank his stars that he lost a certain train, seeing that it ran into a siding at Auchterhouse, thereby injuring some 40 passengers.  About the same time a double collision took place at Alyth Junction.  These accidents set our friend athinking, with the result that he invented his "audible signal" contrivance, the chief feature of which was a trigger arrangement which turned on a whistle should any of the signals be passed unawares, and an apparatus which recorded every instance of a driver passing any visible signals without blowing his whistle.  The invention was offered to the North British Railway, but the reply was that a (visible) warning signal had already been tried but went to pieces.  This suggested his breakable baton device, which, if ever adopted, Mr Crichton thinks can hardly be improved upon.  Next we have his great




for reapers.  In 1876 an American wire-binder was at work at Inchture, after an examination of which our inventor came to the conclusion that wire "would not do," and set about, as usual, thinking out something better---with string.  He got little encouragement from those he talked to about the matter; but the respect in which his opinions were held---as well as people's short-sightedness---may be gauged from the fact that an offer to show how it could be done for £50 was not accepted, and he determined to make a model for himself.  Want of proper appliances prevented the completion of this before 1878, when he sent it to Hornsby & Sons, the well-known agricultural implement makers, only to be told, after considerable delay, that they could not take the invention up, as they were engaged on a wire-binder.  After immense trouble and worry with this and that individual a reaper and binder of his own design was tried on a field at Denhead, near Coupar Angus, in 1885; but it was not till the following harvest, on a field at Kinnochtry, that




rewarded his labours.  It does not excite surprise, however, to find that by this time string binders were at work elsewhere---regarding which fact our inventor has his own ideas.  Another clever contrivance is the fishing-rod cutter, by which he can turn out the six tapered sections of a cane rod in twenty minutes---equal to the work of a man for a week by the ordinary methods!  Some 18 years ago, when gas-engines were so popular, he experimented with benzine and paraffin as motors with perfect success, and thought out a magnet "exploder" of his own---the one he made sustaining a weight of 20 pounds.  A telephone, a microphone, a magnetic battery, &c., were the byproducts of his spare time.  In 1889 he came to his present domicile at Milton of Collace, and we find him in 1893 under the spell of electricity.  Having constructed a dynamo, fitted up the driving machinery, &c., he had the mill and house lit up with incandescent lights before the year was out.  It caused no little sensation in the district, and no end of questions: Was it dangerous?  Did he take it out of the water?  Did he get it in tins?  And, worst of all---What is't ava"?  Even the very tinkers had to be satisfied.  Three years later he constructed a larger dynamo, and with its aid had twelve lights running for a couple of nights for a bazaar in connection with the Burrelton Hall Fund---a genuine novelty for such a small country place.  But


                                The world knows nothing of its greatest men.


And it is just in such places they are bred to perfection.  The same dynamo lights up the mill and house at the present time, and is as good as when fitted up




The water is turned on, and the beautiful straw-tinged lights, as perfect and as brilliant as may be seen in any jeweler's window in Dundee or Edinburgh, suddenly blossom forth like some wonderful kind of flower from Aladdin's garden---in strange contrast with their surroundings.  Then the genius loci has so arranged matters that by simply switching out the lights the water is in turn run off the wheel, and the whole mechanism stopped.  But even this is only part of a larger scheme of the inventor's own, by which the water-power installation may be started or stopped automatically by means of an ordinary clock at any given hour after sunset all the year round, so that the lights in such a village as Burrelton---or in the largest city in the world, for that matter---can be made to appear as regularly as darkness sets in, as quietly and unobtrusively as old sweet-faced Luna herself!  But we must call a halt; in one word, there are few trades our friend has not had a shy at, and in which he has not turned out excellent work.  In addition to all this, there is




of our ingenious miller, which can only be briefly touched upon here.  He has been 24 years one of the leading members of the Burrelton Literary Society---18 years as Treasurer, and some time Chairman---and both by voice and pen has enhanced the reputation and prosperity of that thoroughly live institution.  Then there is his notable contribution to the Burns versus Lady Nairne controversy in respect to the authorship of the "Land o' the Leal," which appeared in a Glasgow newspaper some years ago, and in which he certainly makes out a very good case for the national bard.  Finally, it is hardly necessary to say he is as great a student now as ever he was.  His one great absorbing passion is to discover as much as may be permitted him of the great mysteries of the material universe around him; and, blessed as he is, under the shadow of classic Dunsinane, with


                Content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books,

                Ease, and alternate labour,


It will be strange if our Admirable Crichton of Collace does not eclipse his own brilliant record.



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"Blairgowrie, Stormont & Strathmore Worthies" by Henry Dyerre , Blairgowrie, October 1903









And still the wonder grew

That one small head could carry all he know.—Goldsmith


                It may not be necessary to assume that the Jack family had "a boat o' their ain" at the Flood, like the Macphersons, but if one is to get at the true inwardness of their genealogical tree, it is a sine qua non to start at least with Ian MacIan, Lord of the Isles, a lateral descendant of whom, born in 1660, came to Braemar in 1705, and to Blairgowrie in 1707, when the name was changed to the familiar "Jack."  His son Thomas, by a second marriage, was the father of Stewart Jack, and a younger son, John, grandfather of our esteemed friend in Newtyle.  It almost seems as if there was something in a name, after all, as the Irishman, anxious for a first-class tenor voice, thought when he wished he had been christened Sims Reeves.  Anyhow, the sons of MacIan appear able to hold their own with the rest of the world, and the doings of many of them are among the "things that matter."  The "Provost"---who, it may be explained, inherits his courtesy title from an old charter of Charles II, in respect of old "Newtyld"---was born at Dunkeld in 1832, where his father was a slater.  His parents came to reside in Newtyle in 1834, and used to declare that theirs was the first "reekin' lum" in the new village.  Our friend has vivid recollections of




of the railway, with its three steep inclines, stationary engine at the top of each, horse haulage with thick hempen ropes used on levels between, and later on the Carmichael-built locomotives to supersede the horses.  At the top of Balbeuchly incline was a very sharp turn, and it happened frequently that the engine was unable to bring the three light carriages comprising the train round the curve, but there were always accommodating passengers ready to jump out and give a shove!  Between the years 1862-9 a series of diversions reduced the gradients to their present levels, and increased the distance from 10 1/2 to 17 miles.  The late Sir George Kinloch, father of the present M. P. for East Perthshire, made "siccar," however, that though the Company "might take him round by John o' Groats" to Dundee, the old fare (1s) should not be exceeded.  Our potential "Provost" learned the joiner trade at "Thrums;"  returned on the completion of his apprenticeship and the simultaneous death of his father, to Newtyle, to become the head of the house, wrought eight years as a journeyman, then went to Dundee as architect's assistant to the late Mr Christopher Kerr, and finally




once more on being appointed Inspector of Poor for the parish in 1864, starting as joiner on his own account at the same time, and retiring two years ago from the latter.  And now for some catalogue work, for which one would almost require a Stolzenberg patent indexing apparatus.  As a lover of instrumental music, our friend flirted with all the members of the flute family in turn, then settled down seriously to the bass ophioleide, indulging in occasional recreative wrestlings with the tenor horn and other brazen relatives.  Becoming acquainted with sol-fa, he taught gratuitous classes, juvenile and adult, for many years, and was appointed F.C. precentor in 1856, retiring after 43 years' service.  As might be expected, he has had many amusing experiences in theis connection.  He confesses to having "stuck" more than once; but, as he put it, "I 'stuck' when I felt I was wrong, but some precentors don't know when to stick.  There's an art even in 'sticking!'"  One day he came away without his "specs."  That, to an ordinary precentor would have proved a "floorer," but the precentor in the present instance was no ordinary one, so, reaching up to the pulpit, he asked the minister to give a loan of his.  The "specs" were duly handed down, and the Psalm sung.  Then they were returned to the minister for the reading;




for the next singing; back to the pulpit for the sermon, and so on throughout the service.  "Let brotherly love continue!"  But for coolness and nerve the following would be difficult to beat---in some respects it is quite unique:---A stranger was in the pulpit one day, and something put our friend off his key.  He fairly "stuck;" tried again, with no better luck; and a third trial showed no improvement.  "Well," said he, "I saw it  was no use trying any longer with the wrong key humming in my head, so I determined to turn up another tune in a different key."  He was busy hunting up the tune when that rash young cleric had the temerity to rise in the pulpit and say "Let us pray!"  This was more than flesh and blood could stand.  "No, no," exclaimed our friend, looking up at the minister, "haud on a wee---I'll get it in the noo!"  The minister didn't pray any at that time, but dropped into the well of the pulpit like a harlequin down a trap door.  It is comforting to learn that a suitable tune was captured at last, and Psalm and tune were sung




The "Provost" was 23 years among the volunteers, starting as private, and retiring in 1882 as Captain.  He holds the long service medal.  The post of band sergeant, which he filled for many years, is noticed in passing.  As a well-known authority in matters apiarian, he delivered a series of lectures throughout Berwickshire and the Borders as far back as 1882.  He confesses to dabbling in rhyme also, and more than one sly "skit" on current events is traceable to his pen.  As a leading member of the literary society,, a number of years ago he wrote a domestic drama which was played on two occasions with great success; instructed the players; with the assistance of a painter provided the requisite scenery---the "drop" displaying a representation of old Bannatyne Home---and acted throughout as a stage manager.  He is Inspector of Poor and Collector of Rates for the Parish of Newtyle, and the oldest Inspector by office in Forfarshire; Inspector and Collector for the parish of Eassie and Nevay; Clerk to the School Board; Secretary and Treasurer to Newtyle Public Library, having held office since its institution in 1856; Secretary to the Angus and Mearns Association of Inspectors of Poor; and an elder in the U.F. Church.  In his capacity as Inspector of Poor he has had some interesting experiences.  On  one occasion he was over-reached when the old Parochial Board, against his advice, instructed admission of liability to another parish for a lunatic pauper on the alleged grounds of birth settlement.  Eight years afterwards, during which period the parish maintained the lunatic in the Asylum, it was discovered that this man had been born in Ireland, the real man coming to the front in a fresh claim from another parish.  Our friend detemined to get rid of the spurious pauper, and started for Ireland.  After a hard hunt lasting nearly a fortnight he settled the birthplace and early history of the man, returned home, got the necessary papers prepared for the lunatic's removal, and, setting out one afternoon with the "daftie" in charge, had the satisfaction of landing him at a Union Workhouse fifty miles inland from Belfast early next morning.  The Board did not grudge his holiday.  Our friend's




was cleverly hit off in a "par." which appeared in the "Dundee Advertiser" in 1897, when he retired from the precentorship and was the recipient of several handsome gifts from the congregation.  It is reproduced here:---


The visitor to Newtyle will find every trade represented in the village.  For instance, if you want a house, you will apply to the house-agent, Mr Jack, a gentleman well known not only in Newtyle but in Dundee and throughout Forfarshire.  If you want the house painted or put in order, apply to Mr Jack, painter and paperhanger.  If you want your house furnished, apply to John Jack, cabinetmaker.  If you want to pay your rates, you will find J. J. at the receipt of custom.  If your clock is out of order, Jack, clockmaker, will leave his desk at the Public Library (where he is Secretary and Treasurer) and mend it for you.  If you walk into the Free Church on a Sunday morning, you will find Elder Jack at the plate, and presently you will see him walk into the precentor's box.  If you attend a concert, Mr Jack is there, sings a solo, and superintends the programme.  If a lecture is advertised, when you get to the hall you will hear a lecture, perhaps on bee-keeping, perhaps on capillary attraction, perhaps on the French Revolution, and the lecturer will probably be Mr Jack.  If you want to get into the Poorhouse, or think yourself ready for the Lunatic Asylum, you had better see Mr Jack, Inspector of the Poor, as soon as possible; and if you want to be buried, Mr Jack is the very man for you.  In short, he is Jack of all trades and master of them all!


                That is from the outside point of view; but we believe that his own modest aspiration is that it may be recorded of him at the end simply that he was one who "tried to do his duty."


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